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Cathy Hayat

CMSC

Race to Perfection Drives Exotic Car Component Manufacturer

Published: Thursday, August 21, 2014 - 17:23

Finance professional Joe Fabiani never imagined his love of exotic cars would develop into a full-time career. It began when he searched for an improved exhaust for his Porsche 993 but was at a loss to find one that conformed to the specifications he had in mind. Frustration with OEM stock components and their limited capability for full performance drove him to consider other alternatives.

Surprisingly, automotive OEMs, even those of exotic cars, tend to be conservative with the components they design. Typically, the original exhaust system will be bulkier, heavier, and quieter than a sports car enthusiast would like. Fabiani knew there had to be a better way to design a system that would unleash the car’s full potential. He took matters into his own hands and had a nearby muffler shop design a custom system. That decision would be the turning point in his career.

Word of mouth quickly spread when he began supplying similar systems to fellow members of the local Porsche Club. Joe’s hobby quickly reached the level of a part-time job. As demand continued to increase for his newly designed exhaust system, as well as systems he designed for other exotic cars, the former finance professional knew it was time to pursue his passion full-time.

The race begins

Fabspeed Motorsports Inc. opened its doors in Ambler, Pennsylvania, in 1992. Catering to cars most people only dream about, Fabspeed began building a clientele of Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati owners. At the time, the majority of the company’s fabrication work was performed manually, and subcomponents were outsourced to local vendors. When a new model came into the shop, the tedious process of measuring the existing exhaust and comparing it to the conceptual end product began. Once the company had the required measurements, pre-bent tubes were purchased in minimum quantities of 30 to 50 for use at various curves throughout the system. When the tubes arrived, they were already bent to 90° or 180° angles. Fabspeed’s team then had to cut the tubes, reweld the bends and straight sections to spec, then grind and polish the weld seams. From measurement to completion, the entire process could take days.

Again, Fabiani realized there had to be a better way. Although he began to slowly bring manufacturing capabilities in-house, an investment of nearly $1 million dollars in 2006 signaled the beginning of Fabspeed Precision Services and an end to nearly all outsourcing. In November 2010, the company purchased a Unison Breeze CNC tube bender, which gave the production team the capability to bend a single piece of pipe instead of cobbling together lengths from various others. Because exhaust systems are typically an afterthought in the automotive world, other components are designed, and exhausts are left with whatever space remains. Large, sweeping bends in exhaust pipes are almost nonexistent. The addition of the tube bender considerably improved Fabspeed’s ability to tighten bend radii to 1D on 304L stainless-steel tubing, which greatly contributed to their capabilities.

Chasing perfection

After purchasing the bender, Fabspeed realized it needed to leverage equally sophisticated technology to inspect the pipes after they were bent. After all, why increase production efficiency only to resort to subjective visual inspection to ensure tubes met specifications? Working within a constrained space under a car, there’s no room for error. A bend that is off by a few degrees would cause the entire system to be scrapped.

After carefully weighing options, Fabspeed trusted its specialized components to the single-source manufacturer with almost three decades in the tube-bending industry. The company purchased a ROMER tube inspection system consisting of a shop floor-capable, Infinite 2.0 portable arm CMM and noncontact infrared tube inspection probes. The ROMER system, with its optional data overlay camera system (DOCS) software, was developed, manufactured, and is currently supported by Hexagon Metrology. In addition to inspecting tubes and wires, the system also has the ability to inspect profiles such as brackets, flanges, bosses, or other geometric forms, aiding in the inspection of the entire exhaust assembly.

To reverse engineer an exhaust system, the team positions the ultra-lightweight, portable measuring arm under the vehicle lift and measures the existing system. The Fabspeed operator passes a tube probe over each point of bend change, in sequence, from one end of the pipe to the other. The probe’s visual guidance, via a red laser stripe, indicates where points have been taken, while the infrared sensor “sees” and acquires 3D coordinates.

This under-the-car exercise might seem cumbersome, but the portable arm’s pneumatic Zero-G counterbalance offsets its weight, and the device moves around easily like a human arm. The Zero-G counterbalance also helps to reduce fatigue when an operator is working high above the arm’s midline, and eliminates the tendency of the arm to “flop” during operation, preventing unintended crashes. Audio feedback confirms the points measured are sufficient for a given step in the part program.

Once measurement data are collected, the software compares it to the theoretical data. After adjusting the CNC bender, the next pipe produced conforms to the desired specifications.

“The time saved is the key factor,” says Tony Wells, Fabspeed’s product development manager. “What used to take days now takes hours. The percentage of scrap tubing has almost been eliminated entirely.”

For header manifolds, Fabspeed digitizes and builds to specific-length tubing sizes and configurations at will. “When working on $350,000 supercars, we have to determine how we can engineer our products to outperform what the OEM manufacturer produced,” says Wells. “Since the purchase of the Hexagon Metrology products, Fabspeed has quickly added several new header manifolds and complete exhaust systems to the product line. We have also redesigned many of our older exhaust systems to be manufactured faster with much more accuracy.”

Fabspeed also decided to purchase traditional tactile ball probes to measure components bordering the exhaust path. This capability has proven invaluable for the production team because the probes facilitate the inspection of surrounding features and give the team the ability to approximate the shape and orientation of the original components. Fabspeed has further reduced inspection time since noncontact tube probes can be easily exchanged with ball probes without recalibration. Multisensor part programs combine data collected from the tube inspection probes or ball probes into a single inspection program to facilitate analysis of the information.

Additionally, by measuring where surrounding parts are located in 3D space, the company is able to export the results into a third-party CAD-based software platform to obtain a virtual representation of the exhaust pathway. The software integration allows the team to virtually test various design ideas. “An original stock exhaust is bulky and heavy,” says Wells. “Fabspeed and its customers are looking to improve upon the design to allow for added horsepower and sound. For example, Fabspeed can collect all data required to efficiently produce a product in a 3D world weeks or months after the vehicle has left. Once Fabspeed determines where the collision points are and what our ‘build envelope’ will consist of, we can actually build and modify products at any given point to meet a customer’s request, or change designs entirely with 100-percent certainty the product will fit the first time.”

Fabspeed’s future

The move to dimensional metrology has given a competitive advantage to Fabspeed. Reducing scrap and production times has enabled the company to grow despite the economic downturn many businesses have recently suffered through. Metrology has also enabled Fabspeed to enhance design capabilities because measurements are precise and give an accurate depiction of what the space under the car will accommodate.

Although Fabspeed continues to grow, recently moving into a 25,000 sq. ft facility, the company considers its customers the most important facet of the business. Fabspeed’s mission of providing customers with quality performance products, competitive pricing, and unparalleled service is as true today as it was when Fabiani started selling exhausts to other Porsche Club members. The company continues to push the envelope of innovation and is never satisfied with the status quo. As Wells says, “Our passion is to produce the world’s best exhaust systems for the world’s most luxurious sports cars.” Hence the race to perfection continues.

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About The Author

Cathy Hayat’s picture

Cathy Hayat

Cathy Hayat is a marketing specialist for Hexagon Metrology, a global provider of products and services for industrial metrology applications in sectors such as automotive, aerospace, energy, and medical. Prior to joining the company, she spent 10 years in the elevator industry in various sales and marketing positions. Hayat received her MBA from Northern Illinois University and her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.